04.02.2017 Preaching Text: “[My] soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.” (Psalm 130:6)
Paul talks a lot about “the flesh,” contrasting it with “the Spirit.” This is confusing because we use the word “flesh” differently. We think of flesh as referring to our human bodies, which is not Paul’s point.
Along these lines, as Christians we’ve been taught that there’s nothing inherently wrong with our bodies, our flesh. In fact, in the first of the two creation stories in the beginning of Genesis we’re told that everything God has made is “good.”
“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them…God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”
Notably, this creation story differed from all the other creation stories that existed at the time of its writing, roughly 2,500 years ago. And that difference was the novel idea that creation was good (as opposed to evil, that is!). So why does Paul go on and on about how the dangers of the flesh?
The answer, as I say, is that Paul isn’t referring to our bodily flesh at all. Rather, his use of the term might better be translated as “worldliness.” Better still, in Eugene Peterson’s The Message, the flesh is defined as “obsession with self,” as opposed to one’s “focusing on God.”
This is consistent with something Augustine, the 5th century bishop, once said, who famously defined sin as “a defect of the will.” Thus it’s not that our essential being is inherently disordered, only the misapplication of our human powers that is the source of any and all disorder.
This, as was said, is consistent with the Judeo-Christian belief that creation is good. The problem is its misuse. (This also avoids the Greek temptation to divide human beings up into a duality of mind and body, where the mind is good but the body is bad.)
What Paul is talking about is made clear in Peterson’s choice of words. The problem is not our humanity, not our bodies or minds, only our self-centered attempts to use both for selfish purposes, devoid of God’s input.
“Obsession with self is a dead end;” his transliteration of Romans 8 says, but “attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.”
“Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing.”
This lays it out pretty clearly. Original Sin is self-absorption. It is the rejection of God as Creator and Sustainer, who alone knows who we are and where we need to go.
Thus Original Sin is the act of the human will to become our own god. Which leaves us in charge. God, by definition, is on the outs, now no longer a consideration.
This is a recipe for disaster. Since we’re finite, our understanding of the world is by definition limited. We’re simply out of our depth, especially when it comes to the big things.
This becomes most evident when adversity hits, as it will every life, at those times when things get “out of control.” What are we to do then? To whom do we turn? It’s one thing to think we’re in charge in the small things. But what about those existential moments when we’re overwhelmed, when we face a precarious and uncertain future?
It is this dilemma our scripture passages address this morning. What happens when our bones feel dried up, when our hope is wan, when the things we depend on desert us? What do we do then?
Psalm 130 addresses this directly. It begins with a forceful plea: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord hear my voice! Let your ear to attentive to the voice of my supplication!”
Note the sense of urgency. The psalmist is in dire straits. He knows he is incapable of saving himself. His only hope is God. He has decided to trust God, and in God’s time.
“I wait for the Lord,” he announces, “my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.”
This sort of waiting is not passive or lazy. It is intense, prayerful, hope-filled. It is born of a passionate expectation that God’s promises are real, and that God shall indeed act for the good.
The image of watching for the morning is a reference to sentries who are posted on the ramparts scanning the horizon for foreign invaders. They wait with all-consuming vigilance for the morning to break, as they know it will.
This is, of course, the precise opposite of what we often do in the midst of adversity. For our natural tendency is to rely on ourselves, on our own resources. Only, it seems, when this fails are we apt to turn to God. And even then, we want God to respond on our terms and on our time schedule.
But there’s something else at work here as well. It takes immense discipline and courage to wait. It requires that we give up our pretensions of control to open ourselves up to our invisible God. When we do so, we actually find that we grow spiritually as we cultivate the habit of waiting in faith.
But the greatest challenge in waiting is that it requires humility. Here the self must take a backseat. Humility requires that we accept that we ourselves are powerless to solve life’s challenges, and that we must ask for help. And there’s nothing harder on the ego than that!
Admitting our need, after all, feels like weakness and defeat. It reminds us that there’s a power greater than we are, a power whose strength and will supersedes our own. It means admitting we’re dependent creatures, which is fallen humanity’s greatest fear (it wounds our pride).
In all our readings today we’re reminded of something we often forget: God is real, God is powerful, and God remains our Creator and Redeemer.
In discovering this, we are set to follow a new path, one that invites God into the inner recesses of our hearts, not as an ancillary force, but as at the center of our being, a force that has the authority to direct and define our past, our present, and our future. Amen.